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Jon Blyth on: Clicker Heroes

"I've never felt less alive."

I've always loved a good progress bar. Without a progress bar, I might begin to install or download something, then use that unquantifiable amount of time to read a book, or donate money to a really cool charity. The progress bar eliminates that possibility, by compelling me to stare at it. It transports me into a one-dimensional universe, transforms me into a point on a line. In this universe, there is no hate, no anger. There is nothing but progress towards a utopia of 100 percent.

My love of progress bars isn't blind. I mean, there is no progress bar more hostile and insulting than that endless barber's pole. And some love affairs have turned sour: I was once infatuated with the Windows 95 defrag progress bar. This was a window containing a massive grid of colour-coded squares. Each square was a section of your hard drive, and you could scrub around with the scroll bar, watching as Windows built a beautiful nest out of contiguous files.

If you strayed away from the main defragging action, sometimes you'd find a lonely chunk of information. And sometimes, just sometimes - you'd see that piece of information disappear, presumably returned to its lost adjacent sisters. If you didn't cry at the presumed anthropomorphic drama of that off-screen reunion, the only explanation is that you are a beastly cow.

My love of illustrated progress is a weakness that has been exploited, infested and impregnated by Clicker Heroes. I've been playing this squalid life-sponge for 233 hours, 169 hours of which were racked up in the last two weeks. There are 168 hours in a week. I'm playing it now, which to be quite honest is rude. You deserve better. I've browsed the Clicker Heroes wiki. I've read the patch notes. God preserve my soul, I've watched YouTube videos. I've displayed all the symptoms of loving a game, without ever feeling a scrap of fondness for it. I feel like a psychopath, going through the motions to appear normal, even though I know the people I'm trying to copy are insects. I've never felt less alive, optimistic, or able to explain my actions.

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I'll try to explain Clicker Heroes, in case you're new to this compelling manifestation of despondency.

You start by clicking on a Level 1 monster. It takes ten clicks to kill, and your reward is one gold. Gold is spent on a roster of 38 increasingly expensive Heroes, who range in price from 5 Gold to 1x10^160 Gold, and who cause damage on your behalf. Kill ten monsters, and you can climb a level, where the enemies spit out more gold, and can withstand more damage. That's it. The reward at this stage is nothing more than exponentially larger amounts of money. Kill an enemy on level 17, and you'll get around 1,241 gold. Level 71, and you'll be spooning hundreds of trillions of increasingly impotent gold coins into your account. If you've never killed snowmen against a backdrop of hyperinflation, this is your chance.

Of course, these increases in gold and power are effortlessly matched by increases in the HP of those passive, do-no-harm enemies who, like the poor in modern Britain, must be killed in the name of progress. Knowing this trick of concealed mathematics is useless. Understanding what is happening on an intellectual level is no protection from the the following sensations:

-A warming of the substance between the skull and scalp as your slowing progress is visibly boosted by a new purchase

-A brow-furrowed calm, as your brain decides that this process is more worth your attention than a birthday dinner

-Your nobler self making a mute protest as it is sat on by a psychological Snorlax

Hey, I'm aware that excessive drinking is bad for me, but that doesn't stop me slinging every beer into my gigantic mouth like it's going to be the one that fixes me. Similarly, my current DPS is 7.73 x 10^39. If I told you that in the street, I would fully expect you to whistle appreciatively, and inspect my clothing for ways to join me inside them. We all get self-worth from somewhere. Don't even look at me.

Ascension is Clicker Heroes' kick in the guts. It takes that reassuring line of progress I mentioned, and coils it into a dreadful, magnetic solenoid. On every playthrough, you'll reach a point at which your development is slowed to an intolerable crawl, and your partner is saying something to you that sounds serious, but the words are frozen between your ear and brain. When this progress slowdown occurs, you can restart the game, your progress distilled into Hero Souls. This is the currency of the long game. They multiply your overall DPS, and later on, when the effect of individual Souls become negligible, they can be spent on summoning Ancients. This is your last chance to look up, and ask why your partner is crying.

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I recently saw a person with a debilitating illness, and considered seriously how the decay of the human body is like your own ability to improve being outpaced by the ever increasing HP costs of daily life. I must never come to think of this analogy as acceptable. Otherwise I might end up saying: "Your muscular degradation reminds me of the first time I reached Level 140, and got stuck on a stubborn Stony Bloop. No ascension for you, though, what! Haha! I bid you good-day."

The bloops, snowmen, and big-titted cats fly by in a blur. Was I supposed to be offended by the big-titted cat? I can't remember. She reminds me that sex exists, even if I don't fancy big-titted cats. I consider opening up some porn, but I don't want to create a mental connection between Clicker Heroes and sexual arousal. One of the two feels sacred. Better to never masturbate again. I couldn't bear the urgent clean-up waddle to the bathroom with my laptop in hand, an endless carousel of monsters taking it in turn to witness my shame.

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I feel like I should hate something. Myself or Clicker Heroes seem like the most obvious candidates. But there's also every video game ever, for providing the Clicker genre with such a wealth of fatuous progress to parody. And there's always humanity and evolution, for making me this way. The invention of candles and electric lighting sent moths' navigation systems suicidally haywire. These are my candles - a pat on the head, a shiny medal, and a tightening of the screw.

When I started playing Clicker Heroes, three weeks and a lost lifetime ago, I told myself that I'd write a column about it. That was what I was doing. That was why I was playing. But now, the progress bar of my word count climbs towards 100% of the word limit, and I urgently need a new one. How can I justify this to myself, unless I pretend it's work?

The Clicker Heroes wiki provided me with the answer. Get this, right? On Level 4725, you can't kill the boss, because the boss (an Angry Potato) has higher HP than you can mathematically inflict in the time limit. You can cheat it, but you're still returned back to 4725. This is it: the goalposts that makes this a legitimate, respectable mission. A mission to not kill a potato. How cool would that be? To live in an endless loop of unfixable, inescapable failure? I can't wait to see what that feels like.

In summary I would give Clicker Heroes seven out of ten.

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